Although I'm on the wrong continent and maybe in the wrong decade for having any familiarity with the comic books that have inspired this film, I must say that there's something very right about Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin". Much has already been said about its "Indiana Jones" adventure flavor, and that's well warranted. "Tintin" in fact satisfies in ways that 2008's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" could not. This new effort, a globe-spanning chase about an intrepid boy and his dog, still can't hold a flickering candle to the immersive spirit of the earlier "Indy" films, but then again, that's nearly sacred ground anyhow, not expected to be treaded upon. However, when compared with Spielberg's other new film release, "The War Horse", it must be said that "The Adventures of Tintin" is the best Spielberg film in theaters that week.
Noteworthy for being the filmmaker's first forays into both motion capture animation and 3D storytelling - two widely misused tools in many a well-funded director's toolbox - it must be said that both are the right decision here. Spielberg, being the master of the "gee whiz" that he is, understands the pluses and minuses of both, and has chosen the just the right project to dip his toe into the respective ponds. Sure, he could have gone live action for this, but that would've defeated the purpose. As animation, the old world "Casablanca" vibe is made fresh as the rip roaringly destructive action sequences play out and are allowed to exist as pure artificial renderings (not too cartoony, as that would detract from the danger quotient, but not so realistic that we're intended to forget it's animated) rather than hinge on the all too common veil of effects, settings and even characters (there's no way a real dog could pull off Snowy's part) rendered via CGI.
Some have described Spielberg's treatment of the "Tintin" characters as flat and soulless, not unlike the more-human-than-human physical qualities of previous mocap features filmed in the Uncanny Valley (we're looking at you, Robert Zemekis). I don't see it that way. While Tintin and his heroic pooch Snowy never quite reach the levels of 3D personalities, to call them dead inside is laying it on much too thick. This is an animated adventure serial through and through, and it plays like one in a positively pulse-pounding way. That said, while the action and even settings evoke "Indiana Jones" in a good way, it must be said that young Tintin cannot hold a torch to Harrison Ford's legendary adventurer on screen.
The stylized opening credits (informing us of all the unrecognizable celebrities populating this film) let us know that Tintin and Snowy are no strangers to adventure, setting the stage for essentially almost dropping us in the middle of something as the film proper begins. The screenplay brain trust on "Tintin" looks like a Mt. Rushmore of British geek awesomeness: Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish. Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson seem content to allow these guys to do their thing on paper, as the screenplay is most definitely as clever and pointed as it is unapologetically fan-centric. (If you're expecting an origin story, forget it!) Creatively we're on a two-way street: As thrilled as the writers are that they're drafting a Spielberg movie, Spielberg is likewise interested in letting their fingerprints show through. (With Edgar Wright involved creatively, could Simon Pegg and Nick Frost be far away? Why no, they're not! The pair cracks us up unfailingly as a couple of inseparable inspectors, as inept as they are identical.) (In other casting news, mocap superstar Andy Serkis gets his most human role yet as the colorfully drunken Sea Captain - a starring turn, and it should be said, a far more memorable presence than Tintin himself.)
"The Adventures of Tintin" may not be remembered as A-list Spielberg, but that doesn't mean it's not worth a look. Heck, between this and the terminally schmaltzy "War Horse", (the polished, more respectable, and more sickeningly mature Hallmark Hall of Fame sibling of "Tintin") the horse movie may be more indicative of where the filmmaker artistically is at the moment. But it is nevertheless refreshing that even in his undeniably older age, Hollywood's greatest Peter Pan not only can still live up to that moniker, but chooses to - even as he now considers himself a director of historical dramas. As far as comic book movies go, there may be no immediate appeal for a Tintin movie on this side of the pond, but if the intensely detailed 3D animation doesn't get people to check it out, hopefully the classically Spielberg nonstop action ride will.
- Jim Tudor
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